VALHALLA, N.Y. – Westchester Medical Center civil service representatives and employees gathered at the center’s grounds late Tuesday morning to voice their concerns over announced layoffs at the Behavioral Health Center, until Westchester County Police ordered the group to disperse.
“We just wanted to take 10 minutes to speak to the press and we’ve never had a problem, we’ve been having conferences here all the time for twenty years,” said CSEA Westchester Local 860 President John Staino.
The conference was held on the grass adjacent to the visitor’s parking lot just outside the main building of the medical center. A Westchester County Public Safety Officer on site told Staino that he and the other CSEA representatives needed a permit if they wanted to gather on the grounds. The officer proceeded to let the group gather with large signs claiming their protests for about 20 minutes before two officers asked the group to leave the premises. In total, four officers arrived at the scene by the time the group completely left.
Kieran O’Leary, spokesman for the Westchester County Police said a permit is required for any public gathering at that location. O’Leary added that the union members have complied with that policy in the past and he is currently looking further in to the incident.
Staino said the point of the rally was to express their concern about the center’s partnership with Liberty Healthcare to outsource positions in the Behavioral Health Center, which will lay off 150 CSEA employees by March 1.
“Who’s really suffering is the patients and the community,” Staino said. “Liberty Healthcare has a record of failure and they want to get rid of people who have been here 30 years.”
Messages left with representatives for the Westchester Medical Center requesting comment were not immediately returned. In a press release issued by Westchester Medical Center on Jan. 6, CEO Michael Israel said, “the medical center will be better positioned to deal with a very challenging national fiscal situation caused by various factors, including reduced Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements.”
Israel also spoke highly of Liberty’s reputation in the medical field.
“Liberty Healthcare has a proven record of quality and safety, while bringing efficiencies and effectiveness to organizations around the country,” Israel said in the statement.
Patrick Roche, a Senior Psychiatric Aide in the Behavioral Health Center, has spent 29 years at the Westchester Medical Center and recently learned that his position would be eliminated. Roach was given the option to reapply for his position through Liberty Healthcare but was disgusted with their offer.
“It’s an absolute crime,” Roche said. “They’re taking away my health care, my pension is going to be ‘poof’, which was money in the bank for me.”
Roche said he believes it will be impossible for the medical center to continue providing world-class service to their patients in the Behavioral Health Center.
“I know these patients, at least half of them,” Roche said. “They come in and I know them by name, it’s not going to be like that anymore.”